A guest blog by Robin Padilla, Product Manager in Springer’s Database Research Group
This week the American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting and Exposition is taking place in San Francisco. In the wings of the conference, we talked to Dr Padilla about what’s changed in materials science research, and why SpringerMaterials‘ recent upgrade to ‘interactive’ could be a huge value to its broad base of researchers.
What’s the focus of this year’s ACS conference? And what are you and your Springer Nature colleagues doing there?
The ACS Meetings are the largest chemistry conferences in the world. For spring 2017, the theme is ‘Advanced Materials, Technologies, Systems, and Processes.’
Many of our editors from the chemistry and materials science journals and book groups will be there, meeting with authors and attending technical sessions. Springer Nature will have a booth (708) in the Exhibit Hall with various activities and materials for visitors.
The large size of the conference – usually 20,000-30,000 people – and diversity of attendees make ACS meetings perfect for networking and engaging with the scientific community.
Our database team, including Michael Klinge, Patrick Schaal and I, will be presenting in a Division of Chemical Information session.
Our talk focuses on transforming valuable materials science book content into digital form and then building advanced interactive analysis and data visualization features on top of content previously ‘trapped’ in PDF format. On this particular project, we collaborated with Prof Stuart Chalk of the University of North Florida, who is a prominent figure in the scientific data field.
How would you say things different today for researchers working in materials science compared to 10 or 20 years ago? What’s changed for them?
For me, the two most recent important trends in materials science are the explosion of available materials data and the application of advanced computing tools to materials data analysis and visualization.
Previously, any materials data was a big deal because it was scarce. Now we’ve got more data than we know what to do with! Researchers can now use specialized materials databases and repositories, alongside ‘traditional’ sources like journals and books.
Researchers are tackling the data overload problem by developing many new processing and data visualization methods. Advances in computing have led to many new advanced modelling and simulation techniques.
And of course, powerful tools are needed to search through and sort this data too. All these resources make it easier than ever for researchers to do things like quickly find data, design new materials with new properties and find new applications for existing materials.
Tools for harvesting and analysing materials data are now so advanced that imagination, instead of technology, may soon be the limiting factor for materials science research.
Who is SpringerMaterials for? Who finds it most useful?
SpringerMaterials, should be of interest to anyone doing materials science research in any research environment. Many of our users are graduate students, postdocs, staff scientists and professors based at research universities and government-sponsored research institutes.
Academic and corporate librarians are also key users, as they often assist researchers in finding data, and of course also manage all other relevant resources.
Finally, industry scientists in corporate R&D labs also use Springer Materials. In fact, some of our heaviest users are large firms with substantial in-house product development programmes.
Are there any new tools that stand out to you? Or that are going to be particularly useful to researchers?
SpringerMaterials Interactive is a suite of new tools and features that include interactive plots / data tables and highly-advanced searching. For example, it’s now possible to zoom in on specific areas of a plot and to select individual points.
Additionally, users can now compare material properties side by side on a single plot, a feature not previously possible. A sophisticated new search system means results are much more accurate.
Another smart feature is the ability to search for materials with a given property range. For example, users will eventually be able to search for steels with tensile strengths between 650 and 800 megapascals or look for semiconducting alloys with band gap energies between 1.2 and 2.3 electron volts. Searches like these are especially attractive for industry researchers focusing on applications-oriented projects.
Initially, these advanced features will cover physical chemistry content, which is important in materials manufacturing / processing and chemical engineering. Subsequently, we’ll roll out these features to other key materials science areas.
With these new, interactive functionalities added to SpringerMaterials this year – on top of what was already there – I’m of the view that SpringerMaterials is a unique resource for researchers. It’s the largest hub for curated materials data and no other materials science data source covers as many areas and in as much depth.
The combination of advanced data visualization and analysis tools that can be used to explore this massive and diverse data collection makes it a very powerful tool.
How will this help researchers’ work? How will it advance discovery?
The advanced search features will be a boon for materials science researchers who often struggle to find materials data quickly. General search engines just aren’t good enough and even with specialized repositories, property data for even a single material can be scattered across many sources. We’re aiming to provide single-platform access to linked, multisource materials data.
Being able to use the experimental data SpringerMaterials offers in digital form will be a particularly huge advantage for researchers in computational materials science. Accurate, experimentally measured and verified materials data is vital for highly accurate materials design and simulations, so SpringerMaterials can support one of the fastest growing areas in the field.
What feedback have you had from users since the launch of SpringerMaterials Interactive?
The reaction to SpringerMaterials Interactive during the testing phase was hugely positive. We’ve always taken a user-centric approach to designing the tools we offer materials science researchers, and SpringerMaterials Interactive is no different in that sense.
Many of the functionalities like searching by property range, or comparing material properties, have been heavily requested by users for years.
In fact, having such a diverse user base has made responding to all our users’ needs especially challenging. Materials scientists, chemists, physicists and engineers all use SpringerMaterials, and have differing requirements – we have to try accommodate as many of these as possible.
We’re always improving and optimizing SpringerMaterials. The challenges are big but we’re very happy and quite proud to continue offering sophisticated tools for the materials science community.
Robin Padilla is Product Manager in Springer’s Database Research Group. If you’d like to find out more about SpringerMaterials – or other research solutions – you can contact: firstname.lastname@example.org